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At a glance: Syrian Arab Republic

UNICEF supports new curriculum and training to help overhaul Syria's schools

By Rob Sixsmith

DAMASCUS, Syria, 29 December 2010 – “Repeat, repeat, repeat.” These three words used to be the mantra of a Syrian schools system built primarily on rote learning. But the launch of a new curriculum implemented by the Ministry of Education is effectively chipping away at those foundations – replacing them with something stronger and more sustainable.

VIDEO: UNICEF's Rob Sixsmith reports on the launch of a new UNICEF-supported curriculum for Syria's school system.  Watch in RealPlayer


The emphasis in Syrian schools will now be on active learning techniques, such as group work and interactive theatre, long championed by UNICEF in the country.

“The education is better now. The teaching method has changed,” notes Damascene fourth-grader Abdullah Alhaski. “The taps, the toilets and the classrooms, everything has changed.”

Child-friendly schools

Indeed, the changes are obvious. With luminous paintings on the walls, newly rehabilitated classrooms and better education supplies, Abdullah’s school bears all the hallmarks of the UNICEF and European Union rehabilitation project that originally targeted schools with large numbers of Iraqi refugee students.

© UNICEF Syria/2010/Rashidi
A girl sits at her desk at Iben Al Katheer school in Damascus, Syria, where UNICEF supports a child-friendly curriculum and interactive teaching techniques.

However, it is the less immediate differences that constitute real change – primarily the UNICEF-supported teacher training that allows teachers to adjust to the new curriculum.

The training and curriculum pave the way for UNICEF’s innovative ‘child-friendly schools’ model in Syria. By putting children and all of their needs at the heart of school life, the model is specifically tailored to ferment active learning in as many as 5,000 schools here over the next five years.

Need for input

Of course, reforming an entire education system has not proven easy. The new curriculum itself requires a great deal more research and input from teachers, students and parents in order to overcome problems that representatives of the Syrian Ministry of Education themselves concede.

“There is often negative feedback and resistance when you try to introduce new things,” admits the ministry’s Director of Planning, Abdul Salam Salameh. “But the research we did last year was good, and by the end of this term I am sure we will see the positive side.”



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